Flint River (Linda Parton/Shutterstock.com)

Tracking Flint's water crisis through data

In 2014, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality switched Flint's water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, but it neglected to protect residents from lead leaching into the water supply from aging supply pipes.  To help deal with the resulting medical issues of Flint residents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded $14.4 million to Michigan State University to create a voluntary registry of Flint residents exposed to the tainted water.

Approximately 100,000 residents were exposed to the contaminated water between 2014 and 2015. The registry will be used to track participant data including exposure, health and childhood developmental to community intervention services over a four-year period.

The MSU-Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative (PPHI) is leading the registry effort with support from the Greater Flint Health Coalition, the City of Flint and other community organizations. With a launch targeted for early 2018, the registry will be integrated with other databases under development to track various metrics related to eliminating lead in Flint's water.

“The registry will be a powerful tool to understand, measure and improve the lives of those exposed to the contaminated water,” PPHI Director Mona Hanna-Attisha said.  “The more people who participate in the registry, the more powerful this tool will be for Flint and for communities everywhere that continue to suffer from preventable lead exposure."

The registry will connect participants to information on health coverage, early intervention, nutrition support and ways to eliminate lead from homes and household water.  The data collected from participants will help state and local leaders to improve intervention and community outreach efforts.

MSU’s Biomedical Research Informatics Core will help PPHI develop data security best practices for data collection, storage and access. Public requests for data will be reviewed by a data-sharing committee composed of community members and registry leadership.

“We will link registrants’ data to pre-existing information about their health, development and service utilization,” PPHI Registry Director Nicole Jones told GCN.  “Participant data will be confidential, and participants will be able to choose if they would like to share data outside the registry team.”

The creation of the registry came out of a the Flint Water Advisory Task Force, made 44 recommendations for the governor’s office, city officials, the Environmental Protection Agency and other stakeholders.  

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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